Max Verstappen hunts down Sergio Pérez to claim victory in Miami F1 GP

  • Pérez unable to stop teammate’s charge in Red Bull one-two
  • Lewis Hamilton comes from 13th to claim sixth for Mercedes

On a coronation weekend, how apt then that Max Verstappen should deliver a salutary reminder that he is in no mood to pass on his Formula One world championship crown. The Dutchman delivered a relentless and flawlessly executed drive to win the Miami Grand Prix, putting the pretender to the throne, his Red Bull teammate Sergio Pérez, to the sword with clinical efficiency.

The pair had started the race separated by eight places, with Pérez on pole and Verstappen in ninth. When he took the flag the world champion was a full five seconds up the road from his teammate, who was impotent after a masterclass in pace and tyre control from Verstappen who had, ominously it seemed, barely broken sweat.

“We kept it calm, kept it clean and winning a race from P9 is very satisfying,” he said with no little understatement. “It was a good race. I stayed out of trouble at the beginning, had a clean race and picked the cars off one by one. I stayed out really long on the hard tyres and I think that’s what made the difference.”

Fans were fortunate Verstappen had so much to do. His charge through the field at the Miami International Autodrome, up to second place by lap 15, was by some distance the highlight of another pedestrian race as F1 struggles with single-stop meetings turning all too soon into a procession.

When F1 visits Miami the hype is inescapable, the commitment to it being bigger, louder, more entertaining is palpable. It’s showtime in Florida is the message at the circuit that winds its way round the Hard Rock Stadium, home to the Miami Dolphins NFL team. This year they threw the kitchen sink at it, pre-race at least.

Before the off F1 had introduced its new pre-race ceremony that is likely (doubtless to the horror of many fans) to be employed at eight races this season.

This grand hoopla, it is understood, is not entirely popular with drivers. It saw them introduced to the crowd as they walked out to the grid one by one with rapper LL Cool J announcing each with a theatrical flourish. Were this not enough they also arrived to an honour guard of cheerleaders and the backing of a 30-piece, black-tie orchestra, conducted by singer and songwriter standing on a pedestal.

Will.I.Am in Miami
Will.I.Am conducts the orchestra on the grid prior to the F1 grand prix in Miami. Photograph: Jared C Tilton/Getty Images

It was a grandstand opening for a race that largely proved somewhat pedestrian. Overtaking, as had been expected, was a somewhat onerous task. If it is to be a destination city race as the promoters and F1 so desperately desire, there needs to be more focus on actually allowing the cars to go racing.

Fortunately for Verstappen and Red Bull at least their formidable straight-line speed and DRS advantage meant he was barely inconvenienced. Their car works on every variation of track and surface and is a country mile ahead of its rivals still. Verstappen put it to use with a calm control in delivering a succession of quick laps on a tyre strategy that proved to be crucial in giving him the advantage over Pérez.

It was another exhibition from the world champion that demonstrated why he remains the strong favourite to take a third title this season. He has now extended his lead in the world championship over Pérez to 14 points after five meetings.

The pair were once more in a race of their own at the front of the field, a pattern that only looks to be repeated this season, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso taking third and Mercedes’ George Russell grinding out an impressive fourth, while his teammate Lewis Hamilton put in a similarly hard-earned run from 13th to sixth. For Mercedes the upgrades planned for the next round at Imola cannot come soon enough.

Verstappen had been angry at his error in qualifying, compromising his first quick run and leaving him much to do on Sunday. Yet when in the car, his was an all-too-controlled delivery. He has made some remarkable comeback drives, including from 14th to victory at Spa last year and in Jeddah this season when he took just 25 laps to move from 15th to second but given how difficult overtaking was in Miami this was also impressive, even with the Red Bull’s advantage.

Pérez had held his lead well into turn one, while Verstappen set off after him. He scythed through the field with little hesitation to catch his teammate but their tyre choices had proved crucial. Starting from ninth Verstappen’s engineers had opted for the hard to start, which proved to be a superb decision.

After Pérez had pitted and the Dutchman went long he delivered a vital sequence of circuits between laps 20 and 40. His pace on the worn rubber proved decisive.

The lead was 18 seconds when the world champion pitted on lap 45 and he emerged under two seconds behind Pérez with 12 laps to go.

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With fresh rubber and a light fuel load, Verstappen was ruthless in making it count. He swept past him for the lead two laps later, from where he cantered to the flag. It was far from a grand spectacle but crown and sceptre remain firmly in his grasp.

Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were fifth and seventh for Ferrari, Pierre Gasly and Esteban Ocon in eighth and ninth for Alpine and Kevin Magnussen in 10th for Haas.


Giles Richards

The GuardianTramp

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